New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac’s last four games:
Zero goals, zero assists, a +/- of exactly zero, zero penalty minutes, and four shots on goal (one in each game).
So, like the headline says: So long, Travis. It’s been swell. You earned your money.
You might think it’s a hasty goodbye for a bona fide No. 2 center like Zajac, who ranks 17th among all centers and whose astonishing +36 ranks first.
You might also think it’s a hasty goodbye for a center who — in the four games prior to his recent drought — notched two goals, three assists, + 5, and 12 shots on goal.
Just remember: This is not real hockey. This is fantasy hockey. And there are 10-12 games left. If you’re trying to win your league, you no longer have the time to endure the cold streaks of non-elite talent like Zajac — especially at an incredibly deep position like center, where there are, by my count, four red-hot (and widely available) alternatives:
1. Jamie Lundmark, Calgary Flames (99 percent available in Yahoo! leagues, 100 percent available in ESPN leagues). A former first-round pick — ninth overall in 1999 — Lundmark has tallied four goals, two assists, +4, and seven PIMs in his last five games. Might he finally have “figured it out” at age 28?
2. Michal Handzus, Los Angeles Kings (97 percent available in Yahoo!, 97 percent in ESPN). After scoring goals in three straight games — in addition to his March 5 hat trick at home vs. the Dallas Stars — the Kings promoted Handzus to the first line with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. Granted: Handzus has no points in his last two games. But expect some productivity in the next three: at Dallas (3/26), at the Nashville Predators (3/28), and home vs. Dallas (3/31).
3. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning (75 percent available in Yahoo!, 42.5 percent in ESPN). Since our March 20 entry in praise of Stamkos, the 19-year-old has registered a two-goal game (vs. the Atlanta Thrashers on March 21) and a two-assist game (vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 24). Stamkos now has 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in his last 13 games.
4. Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers (70 percent available in Yahoo!, 90.3 percent in ESPN). In his last 11 games, Gagner has eight goals and seven assists. Moreover, Gagner has at least one point in nine of those 11 games. The sixth overall pick in 2007, the 19-year-old Gagner has shaken free from his season-long sophomore slump.
Let me add this final note of encouragement, to all owners who might be on the fence about dropping a trusty veteran like Zajac for a young hotshot like Gagner or Stamkos: It is a universal fantasy truth that your knowledge of any player increases exponentially after you have owned that player for a period of time. Spending a few weeks now with Gagner or Stamkos will help you immensely when it’s time to prepare for next season’s draft.
And trust me: Gagner and Stamkos will figure prominently in next season’s draft.